On Writing & Publishing by Robin D. Owens

Personal notes on writing techniques, writing a novel, my writing career and threading your way through publishing a book.

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Location: Denver, United States

RITA Award Winning Author -- that's like the Oscar, folks! Futuristic/Fantasy Romance and Fantasy with Romantic Subplots.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Pictures vs. Writing

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Check Out the 1994 Edition on Amazon.com for a larger image (or maybe the following link will work) http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0061081531/ref=sib_dp_pt/102-4616309-9543366#reader-link
All right, in the next few days, I'm going to pull from some articles I've written in the past.


A picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it? One year a while back I had a calendar from Harper that featured heros from their book covers every month. Now Mr. January, a Tudor sort, intrigued me. He seemed to issue a subtle challenge, but I couldn't quite figure it, or him, out. So I decided to do what I usually do when I can't solve a thorny problem in my writing, present the issue to my romance critique group.

I knew the facilitator of my group had the same calendar, and that we tend to congregate in her office before group officially starts. And so it was on the first Saturday of February. We had been talking of this and that when the calendar caught my eye, still showing Mr. January. I brought up the idea that it would be interesting to do a character sketch of the man -- and his subtle challenge.

"Challenge" was the wrong word. Adjectives shot through the room. He was welcoming, generous. No, he was selfish, conceited. On the contrary, he was debonair. No, wily, dangerous -- as many adjectives as there were people.

"He's sensitive," someone said.

This man does not have a sensitive bone in his body, I thought. "Hey, he's arrogant," I said. "He's got his hand on his sword hilt."

"Where else would he put it? He doesn't have any pockets," my friend Liz retorted.

This is true. The guy is only wearing boots, thigh-hugging tights, a white, billowy shirt baring his manly chest, and a sword belt.

More discussion. I was astonished. No one in the room had the same view of the hero that I did. If we all sat down and did a character sketch, showing strengths and weaknesses, secrets and hopes, we would end up with seven very different heros. And seven very different stories. How fascinating. How wonderful.

But another thing to ponder is that a writer has more ability to direct the reader than the artist or photographer. By fashioning our stories, presenting certain characters and throwing light on their actions and thoughts, we can hopefully guide the reader. We can wring emotions, we can point out truths, we can make a point, state a theme. And while photos and pictures can do this as well, in writing there is less chance that seven different people get seven different points. Readers may identify with some characters more than others, recognize and emphasize some themes more than others, but all would have the same general understanding of the basic story.

A picture is not worth a thousand words -- not when it can't convey precisely what the photographer/artist wants. But when we deal in words, a point can be skewered home.

The critique group never did agree on Mr. January. When we continued to argue, the facilitator wisely flipped the calendar to Mr. February.

"Ugh!" someone said.

"Too tough," someone else agreed, as we filed downstairs to start our session.

I looked at him. A Western man -- unshaven, narrow-eyed, and with his hand on his gun-belt. His build, hair and eye color were wrong, but there was something about his expression, something subtle, that reminded me of my last hero. Too tough? Nah.
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7 Comments:

Anonymous a reader said...

.. you got my curiosity going, what about a look at those two men? What was wrong about the build and coloring of the Western dressed man? they got emmigration from just about anywhere in the World!...

9:27 AM  
Blogger Robin D Owens said...

Ok, I went into the scary closet, and I spent a couple of hours on the internet for you, and vaguely remembered the title of the first book, which I've put up.

The second, I can't recall the title and haven't been able to find. Thinking it was a blueish cover. Western, black hair worn longish, REALLY blue eyes... If I ever find the calendar again (I might still have it, I think it was 1994 or 1995), I'll post it.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Robin D Owens said...

Wrong with the build? Ah, I meant the build was wrong for the last hero I'd done...not quite as broad shouldered as I'd imagined my hero...ah, obviously words can be misleading, too...

Robin

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Crystal said...

Pictures ARE worth a thousand words. Consider that a novel is about 40,000 words. If you saw 40 images of the guy, you may be able to get the same range of detail about him as you'd could get from an entire book.

Besides, the point of an image (on a book cover especially) is to give an idea, a clue--to inspire curiousity and a willingness to see what that image represents...AND I'm sure that there were more than a thousand words spoken about the first guy alone in your pre-meeting. :D

Hi! I'm Crystal. I read 'Guardian of Honor' and really enjoyed it, which is why I looked it up. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous a reader said...

Thanks for the photo! and will look forward to seeing that Western man... eventually ... I hope. Thanks again! I really enjoy your blog.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Robin D Owens said...

Ok, happened to recall the title. Easier this way since I bought the book...and I looked at that calendar for a LONG time...LOL.

Here he is...

Robin

5:55 PM  
Anonymous a reader said...

That was fast and efficient! I agree that the man seems more like a worker at the oil fields of Texas than a rancher, but looks Gooood.... all the same; more real than the usual models that are to be seen on romance book covers - like Fabio - too pretty for words. Thanks again.

7:10 PM  

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